A friend recommended books written by Penelope Fitzgerald who started her writing career in 1960. The Bookshop was first published in 1978 and was her second novel. The author's experience of having worked in a bookshop in Southwold provides the background for this book.
It was 1959 and Florence Green had lived in Hardborough on the East Anglia coast for almost ten years when she decided to open a bookshop in The Old House, a building that had been vacant for many years. It was then that Florence encountered opposition from a section of the established community - initially from the bank manager, then from Mrs Violet Gamut, a power broker in the town, who decided that The Old House should be used as a cultural centre and finally by neighbouring premises when the bookshop had partial success. However Florence did have some supporters including Mr Brundish and also eleven year old Christine who helped out in the shop. This short novel explores the challenges faced by Florence in establishing her new venture, including dealing with a poltergeist who occasionally makes his presence felt in the old building, and how she deals with them. The story is told with humour and understanding of living in a small, isolated community. A series of correspondence between Florence and a lawyer, when Violet Gamut attempts to close the business, demonstrates Florence's understanding of the situation and her place in the community.
Penelope Fitzgerald uses words economically in portraying the characters in this community, the situation in the village when the new venture is undertaken by Florence and the injustice that can occur when people try to introduce something different into an established community. Although this is a character driven book the setting of the seaside village also plays a prominent part in the unfolding of the story. In only 100 plus pages the author involves the reader in the affairs of this small community and the struggles of Florence to live life as she wishes. Parallels can also be drawn between the opposition to change in a small town, as portrayed in the novel, with opposition to change that can occur in many community groups.